Feature image with Mucca the catahoula dog in Rome, Italy in front of the Colosseum in the sun with a bright blue sky. There's a circle graphic next to it saying "3 Things I learned when moving to Italy"

3 Things I Totally Didn’t Expect when Moving to Italy


Moving abroad can be a scary thing for anyone. But once I saw that picture of Mondello beach and it’s sparkly blue waters (teaming with jellyfish, mind you) I was sold. However, there were three big things that I wasn’t expecting upon moving to Italy.

Panoramic view of Mondello beach with greenish blue, crystal-clear water, people swimming, mountains and palm trees in the background and fluffy clouds in a blue summer sky.
Modello Beach. I mean…c’mon!!!

How the heck did this Chicago (said with an emphasis on the AHH – in true Midwest accent form) gal end up in Milan? It’s ok, everyone wonders. One word: amore!

Carol in a black and white striped vintage bathing suit with the beach and mountains in the background. There are Italian flag, british flat and an american flag. Carol is holding up her right arm and pointing to a red welt where she got stung by a jellyfish.
Wearing my jellyfish sting like a true Italian badge of honor.

Yep, I moved along with this stud-ly Italo-americano beau turned husband, Josh, that I’d met in Chicago.

“I love Chicago!” he said. “I can really see myself settling down here!”

“Cool. I’ve lived in Illinois my whole life and it’s time for me to get out there and explore!” – my response.

So after a brief stint in Seattle and then San Francisco, he said “what do you think about Palermo, Italy?” This is where the googling of said beach and moment of throwing caution to the wind and off we went. A year and a half later, life brought us to Milan, where we are now.

Che romantico right?!! Well. Here’s what they don’t tell you.

1. There will be embarrassment. Lots of (costly) embarrassment.

From the second I went into town and a man with rough, weathered skin and more gaps than teeth, waved a very much alive octopus in my face asking in a thick Sicilian accent, “polpo? Polpo!” I knew I was in for a ride. Although, “polpo” doesn’t get much fresher than that, I must say.

There was the accidental purchases of €15 worth of cabbage because I didn’t know the word for “half” and my chopping pantomiming apparently didn’t translate. Not to mention when I  unknowingly ordering an ENTIRE ice cream cake (€50) for myself.  I guess smiling and nodding didn’t work out to well when the guy behind the bar asked me “you mean you want one – like, the whole thing?”

Carol with a big smile in front of a door with a green smiley face sticker on it, holding a Campari spritz in one hand and her permesso di soggiorno (visa) in the other. Finally!
Hours, flights, documents, embarrassment. But I got my visa!! And a spritz.

And I’m not even going to go into figuring out the bureaucracy. That’s for another, lengthier, and much less interesting, but with much more vulgar vernacular, blog post.

At some point, years into the experience, you’d think it’d get easier.

That is, until you’ve found yourself at a government office window shouting through a mask and then makeshift plexiglass to the woman verifying your information for an ID. At some point between me forgetting to put the date first and then the month when reciting my birthday and not knowing how many centimeters tall I was (math- not my strong point) she started crossing her chest. In true Catholic form. Confused, I thanked her, only to realize she was asking me a question. Fumbling around with language, I came to realize she was asking if I wanted to donate my organs upon death. No she was not blessing me for coming to her window for my ID. Well. At least we had a laugh.

2. Everybody has “a guy” for everything.

In Italy, it’s all about who you know. It is such a strong culture of trust. Almost to an absurd level for this Americana.

Carol in the photography studio photographing a yellow lab in front of christmas lights on a white backdrop in a yellow sweater and looking at her Canon R5 screen.
Carol and Selma in action at the new studio!

For example, Josh once told me he was out having a drink that was only a few Euros. He didn’t have any cash and assumed he could pay by card. After the waiter got over the initial shock of someone being so daft as to offer plastic for such a cheap drink, he finally waved him off and said “come back tomorrow with the cash” and that was that. Josh did of course, but I can’t even IMAGINE that happening in the US!

Once you get to know a few locals, lots of doors open up. It’s really a wonderful thing to see. That’s how I ended up finding my spot in the photography studio I’m at now. A friend said “I have a photographer friend in the area and they may have a spot for you at their studio!” And here we are. Now, when I have a need, I just ask the others at the studio and VOILA!

I found my hairdresser from our dog trainer. My optician from a friend’s Mom. VIP treatment the one time I went to the emergency room from a mishap of having too much fun at the dog park, from our cardiologist friend. Discounts at the local fruit and veggie stand, butcher, fish shop. And so on!

And finally:

3. Dogs are allowed EVERYWHERE!

Ok. Not the big grocery stores. But the small, express one? You betcha! Bus? Yes. Inside a fancy restaurant? Yes. Salon? Clothing stores? Banks? Pharmacies? Yes and yes.

Pretty cool for this gal coming from: “patios only and not all of them, only some and even then, you get stink-eye.”

Cute black scruffy terrier dog in a shop with lots of artisanal goods around him.
Dog in a shop? No big deal! May even get pets from the owner!

I will say, the culture here is still “my dog is a dog.” There definitely is a beat of “part of the family” for sure, but not quite to the “Please come to my dog’s wedding. Dress code: beachy formal attire. We’re registered at Lepetluxe.com and RSVP by next Saturday, per favore” like some (me!) are in America.

Spaying and neutering seems to be frowned upon (or highly questioned). Training is either all-in or non-existent it seems. Strays are a big problem, especially in Sicily.

And don’t let them lick your spoon at the bar!!

I learned this one the hard way. To meet new people and practice Italiano, I started frequenting the local cafe for my morning cappuccino. I only had Mucca at the time, and to keep him out of other customers’ hair, I’d slip him some treats. Had I run out, he’d get a spoonful of milk foam from my cappuccino.

Until one day, the owner kindly asked me to stop using their spoons and offered me a disposable spoon if I wanted to share with Mucca. Apparently someone had seen it and complained about how gross I was. Ha! She has a dog herself and flat out said “I get it! But…others don’t like it.” Here I am thinking “but you wash them anyways, right?!” Of course they do, but also, dog lips…

Carol with her Canon camera at a table outside with a cappuccino and frothy milk with a spoon on the saucer. Mucca the catahoula dog sits next to the table waiting for a treat.
Sorry, Mucca. No licks for you!

At the end of the day, if you, dear reader, ever decide to move abroad, I’d 100% recommend doing it  with your dog. It has been a great way to chat with people in the neighborhood. In fact, when my Italian was still pretty rusty back in Palermo, I had written out a script that roughly translated to this:

“His name is Mucca (female cow) but he is male. The breed is called “Catahoula.” It’s an American breed. I am American, too.” And then I fiercely hoped they didn’t have any other off-script questions.

Here’s a few other fun rules I’ve learned along the way:
  • When passing the salt, place it on the table for the recipient to pick up (otherwise bad luck).
  • No cheese on anything from the water (however, for some reason anchovies still come on pizza…).
  • Don’t cheers an alcoholic drink with a non-alcoholic drink (bad luck!)
  • Always ask permission before entering someone’s home (Vampire, much?).
  • Nothing spicy or too much garlic (again…Vampires?)
  • No cappuccinos after 11am (it’s too heavy, all that milk!).
  • Go around the room and greet EVERYONE with two cheek air kisses – always the right cheek first otherwise….
  • Never go out with wet hair (you’ll die of a monster cold).
  • Dessert, coffee then digestivo after dinner out. In that order.

And lots more, mostly regarding food, but you get the idea.

And don’t let your dogs lick the silverware!!

Do you have your dog with you in Milan?

Want a custom Photoshoot?


This post is part of a blog circle of some of the most uber-talented pet photographers all over the world. Keep reading to see what other photographers are up to this week!

Up next: Canberra Pet Photographer, Ina Jalil of Ina J Photography shares some tips in choosing the right location in Canberra for your outdoor pet photography experience.

Follow the circle until you land back on this page. Enjoy!

Read this next:

  1. Tracy Allard

    That was so interesting, I loved reading all of it. It brought back memories of my cousin’s stories of living in Switzerland for 2 years with her family and getting yelled at, berated, and ridiculed – on a daily basis – all in German. Oh well, it makes you stronger (and for good stories!)

    • THE Carol Mudra

      That’s too funny! At least if I get yelled at in Italian it’s a bit more melodic sounding than German! Definitely makes you stronger…haha!

  2. Angela Schneider

    I’d be proper fucked in Italy because the only Italian I know is “cane de pastore Maremanno-Abruzzese.” However, I would much rather make the mistake of ordering too much cake than too much cabbage. Because cake.

    • THE Carol Mudra

      Yes I guess there are worse language mistakes to make, I guess! And I can blame the “language barrier” as a cover up for my true desire to drown myself in an entire gelato cake just for me!! Because…cake!!

  3. Terri

    This was a fun read! I know about the don’t pass the salt superstition – my non-Italian husbands family does that too! If I was younger and no kids I’d love the opportunity to move to somewhere like Italy!

    • THE Carol Mudra

      I definitely think living abroad is something everyone should try once in their lives. It really opens your eyes up to other cultures. Plus the food here is pretty amazing too, so there’s that!

  4. Nicole

    Thanks for sharing this information. I love to learn about other cultures. I do think spaying and neutering is strictly an American thing. We are a bit about convenience and not being very responsible.

    No shame if you ate the entire ice cream cake, I would have!

    • THE Carol Mudra

      Ha yes you have a point about convenience. But I think they pay the price here because there are so many strays, especially in the south and Sicily, that it’s becoming a big problem. And yes. I did some major damage to that ice cream cake all by my lonesome!

  5. Elaine

    I laughed so much while reading this! Great blog! My family is 1/2 Italian, and the wet hair thing (and most of the other things you noted) definitely came out of their mouths all the time. When we lived in Europe, I grew up thinking dogs were allowed everywhere, but that bubble was burst when we returned to the U.S.

    • THE Carol Mudra

      That’s too funny! Glad you can relate. Yes, if we ever move back to the US I’m sure that’s going to be one of the hardest transitions. Not having a dog or two in tow everywhere we go.

  6. Darlene

    Always love your posts and thanks for sharing your adventure move to Italy! Wow! So true about the US and if someone didn’t have cash …. it would be posted all over social media lol! I love that dogs are allowed “almost” everywhere!

    • THE Carol Mudra

      Haha yes! Talk about being publically “canceled!” But is nice to know there’s this general tendency to trust people, instead of automatically assuming the worst of people. Makes it harder to use contracts for everything though…

  7. Michele Beaulieux

    Very entertaining and informative read! The “Nothing spicy or too much garlic” surprised me. I think of Italian food having garlic, but I guess it’s the “too much” that’s key. Also, it’s flavorful, but I guess that’s different from spicy. All in nuance. Thanks for the education!

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


They do so much for us, it's time we do something for them. Sign up for our our newsletter and get the Top 5 Tips to the Ultimate Spa Day Guide for your pup! DO IT!

Dog dressed in a robe with towel on his head

Success! Thanks!